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Sustainability a ‘Cancel Culture’ casualty in retail?

Reading Time: 4 mins
By Published On: October 3, 20220 Comments

Retailers and brands are eager to take forward steps in sustainability goals, but some are wary of announcing their brands’ sustainability goals for fear of criticisms that their actions are ‘not enough’, according to Australian greentech platform Sustainable Choice.

Building a sustainability profile has become increasingly front of mind for retailers, brands and businesses generally in recent years, almost entirely led by the changing habits and interests of consumers. But for some businesses, progress in sustainability goals could be delayed, at least in part, by concerns about consumer backlash or criticisms if a brand’s efforts are deemed as ‘not enough’.

“We have found that business leaders are eager to publicly announce their commitment to  environmental sustainability, but they are also terrified of being criticised or ‘cancelled’ for not doing enough,” says Kiarne Treacy, founder and CEO of greentech platform Sustainable Choice, “The problem we have right now is that silence is winning: it’s easier to say nothing, do nothing and fly  under the radar, because when you start small and say something, you run the risk of being accused of  ‘greenwashing’.”

This view comes as consumer habits, particularly in Australia, have seen a significant shift towards the prioritization of sustainability goals and making informed environmentally friendly choices. In its ‘Going Green’ consumer report, published in June, product review platform Finder found that as many as half of all Australian consumers are already actively looking for greener products or services. Individual concerns about carbon footprints, too, have continued a trend of growth within the last financial year. Consumers reporting no concern about their carbon footprints in the year leading up to April 2022 declined from 35 percent to 31 percent, while those either somewhat concerned or extremely concerned increased to 69 percent.

The repercussions of these changed habits have already begun to be felt by retailers, as in June of this year professional services firm EY reported findings from its Future Consumer Index suggesting as many as 24 percent of consumers globally had already stopped purchasing (or started purchasing less) from brands and retailers they regarded as not doing enough to help the environment.

This will prove an area of great concern for a significant number of Australian retailers, as many as a quarter of whom already expect that they will fail to meet existing Net Zero by 2050 goals, according to findings from Microsoft published last month. And Kiarne Treacy of Sustainable Choice believes that fears of social reprisal for lack of sufficient action is also contributing to discourage brands and retailers from committing to sustainability goals.

Offering a platform for businesses and brands to declare and detail steps being taken in their sustainability goals for the benefit of consumers, Sustainable Choice is in a unique place to interpret the attitudes of both businesses and consumers alike with respect to sustainability goals. Despite having only launched in March of this year, Sustainable Choice has fast developed a reputation as the ‘LinkedIn of Sustainability’, with brands such as KFC, Dilmah, Europcar and Snooze among those to have pledged sustainability goals on the platform.

What the platform and many of its members have discovered in this short time is that ultimately transparency is the best method of tackling sustainability goals and mitigating potential backlash for inefficient action. As Mike Smith, founder of Zero Co – an online retailer offering sustainable body care and cleaning products – puts it, “We’re living in a post-truth, greenwashed world, so being radically transparent is the silver bullet of our times. We’ve got nothing to hide, so we try to win the hearts and minds of our community by putting it all on the table, always. Warts and all.”

Smith further suggests that businesses need not shy away from the possibility of making mistakes when tackling sustainability goals, saying, “We’ve had plenty of mishaps and learnt many lessons along our journey towards developing a closed-loop and single-use plastic free business model. From developing world-first products to creating our own supply chain from the ground up, we’re constantly facing hurdles that make our output sometimes less perfect than we’d like.”

“What we’ve learnt is that people don’t need perfect. They’d prefer honesty. So instead of hiding from our losses, we like to celebrate them and share them with our community, so they can understand the challenges we’ve faced to get their products delivered to them tip top.”

This view on transparency being an antidote of sorts to potential criticisms is one shared by Sustainable Choice founder Kiarne Treacy, who offers similar observations.

“The best way for brands to overcome their fear of backlash is to avoid ambiguous environmental claims on products and packaging,” Treacy says, “Stick to the facts – and make sure it’s easy for consumers to access more details about those facts if they want to.”

To assist in facilitating this transparency, Sustainable Choice views its platform as an asset for businesses hoping to gain ground on sustainability goals and engage with consumers about productive ways to meet and improve these goals. While Treacy does believe broader narratives around sustainability for businesses need to change to better highlight positive progress, rather than focus on perceived negatives, she suggests that safe places like Sustainable Choice offer unique opportunities for retailers and businesses to get their start on achieving sustainability goals.

“There are brands on our platform that are leading the charge in taking environmental action and others who are just beginning their journey – and that’s ok,” Treacy says, “Sustainable Choice aims to provide a safe place where all businesses can publish honest, factual and  transparent commitments, along with the progress they are making every day.”  

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  1. Maree and Ray October 3, 2022 at 1:25 PM - Reply

    We are 71 and 75 years of age we are trying our very best to “Go Green”
    We bought our bed from Snooze. Kiarne from Sustainability Choice and their members seems to have got it right with putting it OUT THERE. WE need TRANSPARENCY and HONEST and we are receiving this from Sustainability Choice so Congratulations to you Kiarne

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